It has been a common understanding that General Motors sells more vehicles in China than it does in the United States. And that statement, to some extent, is true. But it’s not the whole story.
You see, The General operates in China via numerous joint ventures. Chinese the law requires all foreign automakers to conduct business in China by partnering up with local firms. A byproduct of doing just that is that GM can record the sale of vehicles that it never designed, engineered, or manufactured, as its own.
The most prominent example of such an arrangement is the three-way joint venture between SAIC-GM-Wuling, which manufactures light commercial vehicles (vans and pickup trucks), and FAW-GM, which makes a different kind of light commercial vehicles. That leaves Shanghai-GM, a joint venture between General Motors and SAIC, which is responsible for GM’s “core” brands of Chevrolet, Cadillac, and Buick in China.
When it comes to the vehicles designed, engineered, and built, the U.S. is still The General’s biggest market by sales volume, roughly by 100 percent. It’s only when Wuling and FAW vehicles are added to GM China’s sales results does The General sell more vehicles in China than in its home market.
All that boils down to various financial metrics, such as how much each automaker makes on selling a particular vehicle. And while neither The General nor its Chinese joint venture partners disclose any specific per-vehicle information, GM International Operations (GMIO), which contains China, is significantly less profitable than GM North America (GMNA), which contains the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.